MechE: Our thrust is improving life on earth
MechE's origins trace back to the end of the American Civil War, in 1865. Its earliest areas of focus included extensive programs in power engineering and steam engines for both transportation and fixed use. By the mid-1870s, with the Industrial Revolution well underway in North America, the department became known officially as Course II. It innovated the use of lab subjects, giving students the opportunity to apply methodology to current engineering problems with hands-on lab work.
The specializations offered at the time reflected the industries of greatest growth, including marine engineering, locomotive engineering, textile engineering, and naval architecture. In 1893, marine engineering spun off from MechE as its own course and remained independent until it merged back (as Ocean Science and Engineering) in 2005. By the turn of the century through the advent of World War I, programs in steam turbine engineering, engine design, refrigeration, and aeronautical engineering set the stage for the technological advances to come.
Between World War I and World War II, automotive engineering was a very popular program in MechE. The Sloan Automotive Laboratory, founded in 1929, became one of the world's leading automotive research centers. Post-World War II, the department's research emphasis gradually shifted from military applications (which continue to be an important component of the overall MechE program in the present day) to "quality-of-life" applications, such as biomedical engineering, energy and environment, and human services.
Mass, motion, forces, energy, design, and manufacturing - these comprise the world of mechanical engineering. Today, MechE attracts and features an extraordinarily rich diversity and quantity of talented individuals, including 400 undergraduates, 500 graduate students, and about 75 faculty, many of whom are members of the National Academies and fellows of prestigious professional societies.
MechE conducts about $35 million worth of sponsored research annually, in a range of areas - such as mechanics, product design, energy, nanoengineering, ocean engineering, control, robotics, and bioengineering - that are diverse and yet also allow for rich collaboration both within the department and with other engineering and science disciplines at MIT and beyond.
These broad areas of focus and our commitment to multidisciplinary research results in an exciting variety of innovative projects, including the use of active control to optimize combustion processes; the design of miniature robots for extraterrestrial exploration; the development of unmanned underwater vehicles; the prevention of material degradation in proton-exchange membrane fuel cells; the development of physiological models for the human liver; and the fabrication of 3-D nanostructures out of 2-D substrates.